Mar 302014

The latest Decoding the New Economy video is an interview with wine photographer Charles O’Rear.

Charles was on tour with Microsoft to promote the end of Windows XP, it was his photo of a Napa Valley hillside that became the background feature the system’s default ‘Bliss’ theme.

The interview is a long ranging discussion on how photojournalism has changed over the last four decades along with the evolution of both the art and science of photography itself.

Mar 212014
the new iphone 5 continues to disrupt markets

It’s always risky to make predictions about Apple, particularly when they are silly. The company plays a long game and isn’t known for panicked releases of me-too products.

Time is ticking for Apple to announce an iWatch, say analysts is a good example of a silly prediction about Apple’s future products and something that’s quite rightly criticised by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber.

As I’ve pointed out before, the watch market is tiny compared to the smartphone with the entire global wristwatch industry’s sales making up only one-seventh of Apple’s iPhone sales.

Part of the problem with stories like CNBC’s is the tech media’s focus on consumer goods, particularly in the internet of things and wearable technology markets.

Analysts like those quoted in CNBC’s story fall for this fallacy and overlook that the IoT market profits are going to come from the backend, B2B applications of the technologies.

With Apple we’re already seeing this with iBeacon being deployed in sports stadiums and shopping centres – Apple’s recent partnership with United Airlines to provide inflight entertainment is another step towards locking up business deals.

There’s no doubt those business deals will flow into the consumer market and an iWatch may well be part of Apple’s longer plan to lock customers into their products.

However claiming Apple have 60 days to launch an iWatch is plain silly, particularly when you have a company with a track record of not being panicked into launching me-too products and playing the long game.

Feb 152014

“How do we move to an exponential approach to innovation” asks John Hagel, Director of Delioitte’s Centre for the Edge in the latest Decoding the New Economy video.

The Centre For The Edge is Deloitte’s Silicon Valley based think tank that identifies and explores emerging opportunities related to big shifts that are not yet on the senior management agenda.

John tells us how the cycles of change and innovation have varied over the last thirty years in the industry; “the biggest thing for me is that nothing is stabilising. I often go back into history and look at things like electricity, the steam engine and the telephone – all hugely disruptive to business practices.”

“But the interesting pattern is they all had a burst of innovation and then a levelling off,” says John . “You could stabilise and figure out how to use all this technology.”

“With digital technology there is no stabilisation.”

That lack of stabilisation leads to what John has termed ‘exponential innovation‘ where he sees business and education being rapidly transformed as technology upends established practices and methods.

Healthcare, financial services and “any industry that has a high degree of information content ” are the sectors currently facing the greatest challenges in John’s view.

John sees the solution for businesses and managers in looking at the current era not as a time of technology innovation but of institutional innovation. That institutions, like companies, have to reinvent how they are organised.

Reinventing well established companies or centuries old bureaucracies is a massive challenge, but if John Hagel’s view is right then that radical change to institutions is what is going to be needed to face a rapidly changing society.

Bank image by Ben Earwicker, Garrison Photography of Boise, ID through

Feb 042014
can of fly spray

A great little story from the Australian government’s research arm, the CSIRO, tells the story of how the Queen Elizabeth II lead the commercial insect repellent industry and how intellectual property has changed.

The story tells how the original experiments were carried out in 1940 to see what substances were best in repelling mosquitos as part of the preparation for a tropical war against Japan.

After the war, research continued and during the 1963 Royal Tour of Australia, the Queen was sprayed with the government repellant to keep flies off her while she played golf.

Journalists following the Queen noted the absence of flies around the official party, and word about CSIRO’s new fly-repellent spread. A few days later representatives from the company making Mortein insecticides called Doug Waterhouse for his formula, which he passed on freely, as was CSIRO’s policy at the time and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s unthinkable today that any research organisation would give intellectual property away and a modern agreement would include hansom royalties for the formula.

There’s an argument that giving away the intellectual property helped innovation and public health, but in these stingy and cash strapped days it’s hard to see how government scientific organisations could survive without royalty payments.

It certainly is true that the past is a different country.

Fly spray can courtesy of Wikipedia

Feb 022014
steam train and inefficient business

“We’re driving inefficiencies out of every single facet of life,” AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson told The World Economic Forum’s New Digital Context panel last month.

The CEO panel at the Davos forum, which included Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer, Salesforce’s Mac Benioff, Cisco’s John Chambers and Gavin Patterson of BT discussed how corporations of all sizes are being affected by rapid market changes.

“All this bandwidth, all these connected devices, are as disruptive as anything this society has ever seen,” Stephenson said.

“Companies that aren’t moving and driving the new technologies are companies that don’t stay alive.”

Stephenson’s view was supported by Cisco CEO John Chambers, “if you look at big companies only a third of us will exist in a meaningful way in two decades.”

Chambers cited Cisco’s experience from the past two decades to illustrate how business is rapidly changing, “my competitors from fifteen, twenty years ago – none of them exist or they’ve exited. From ten to fifteen years ago only one exists, from five to ten years ago only a few.”

“If you don’t disrupt, you get left behind,” warned Chambers.

Chambers’ advice to managers is that teams have to be empowered and encouraged to take risks and learn from failures, advice endorsed by Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer.

“The best thing you can an executive can do is play defense, not offense. Get out everybody out of the way and set up an evironment where they can really run and make a difference.”

Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer endorsed the change, describing a much flatter organization; “we try and run things really flat, really transparent.”

That flat organisation is really the biggest risk to many executives in staid, safe organisations; it means fewer middle managers as the workplace is increasingly automated.

As businesses adopt new technologies, the need for Executive Vice Presidents or Group General Managers is eliminated – along with the armies of assistants and underlings required to help these folk in their roles.

In the past, those layers of management have isolated senior executives from their customers which Salesforce’s Marc Benioff is a luxury companies can’t afford in the current marketplace, “everything is going faster, companies have to change faster.”

“Today if you’re not listening to your customers more deeply than ever before and not reacting to them more rapidly than every before,then you are probably making a mistake,” warns Benioff.

Most of those in the room at WEF were the world’s top executives and government officials, how many of them take note of how business is changing will become clear in the very near future.

There’s also a warning for those government leaders on how employment and government services are going change in the near future which a lesson that needs to be heeded as policies are developed.

Now’s the time for every manager, business owner or executive to look at the inefficiencies in their workplace and whether it can be eliminated either through technology or business restructuring. It may well save you from being identified as an inefficiency yourself.

Steam train image courtesy of Gabriel77 through

Feb 012014

Last Friday I had a story in Business Spectator on the future of Apple in light of the company’s warning of a 20% fall in revenue next quarter.

The clear message from Apple’s executives was that the company is facing a terminal decline in iPod sales and the iPhone – it’s most profitable and highest selling product – is facing slower sales.

So the search is on to find something that will replicate the iPhone’s success, with the biggest candidate being the iWatch.

The problem with that is the entire wearable technology market is only forecast to be $6bn which is a seventh of Apple’s $42 billion profit last year, so the iWatch can never replace falling iPhone sales.

It may well be for Apple that the period of massive profits and growth is drawing to an end, it doesn’t mean the company is dying – for a start they has nearly $200bn in cash reserves and a healthy $150 billion in sales each year.

Short of Tim Cook unveiling something similar to the iPhone, the future for Apple is probably going to be a bit modest than past few years of huge growth, that’s not a bad thing.

Rather than being the end of Apple, it’s more a revision to the role the company has held for most of it’s existence – a high profit, niche business that sells on quality and brand rather than fighting in the commodity markets.

Jan 272014
apple smartphone tablet pc

“There have only been two milestone products in our industry to date,” Steve Jobs told the Boston Computing Club in 1984. “The first was Apple II in 1977 and the second was the IBM PC in 1981.”

Jobs at the time was announcing the third breakthrough – the Apple Mac – which turned 30 last week.

Looking back over the four decades of the PC industry, Jobs’ claim that the Apple Mac was the sector’s third milestone stands up to scrutiny, however the greatest milestone of all for the PC was the launch of Window 3.0 in 1990.

The rise of Windows

Windows 3.0 changed the business model of the industry, it established software vendors – particularly Microsoft – as being dominant over hardware manufacturers, that shift nearly killed Apple and eventually sent most PC builders to the wall.

Microsoft’s advantage over Apple, IBM, Atari and dozens of other systems, was that users weren’t locked into one vendor’s products. It was possible

The Windows 3.0 milestone was even more important in that it forced a shakeout in the software industry as well, many of the incumbent vendors – most notably WordPerfect – though the Windows Graphic User Interface (GUI) was a flash in the pan and that most office workers would prefer to use keyboard instructions rather than mouse clicks.

WordPerfect was horribly, horribly wrong in judging the market and by the time they released the Windows versions of their product Microsoft had captured key market share for Word and the bundled Office suite that dominates the business world today.

Going mobile

So things were good for Microsoft until the next milestone, which again was marked by Steve Jobs, the launch of the iPhone genuinely did change the smartphone industry and was the first inkling of mobile would eventually destabilise the PC sector.

It’s interesting comparing Jobs’ iconic 2007 iPhone which sets the standard for product launches with the somewhat rough at the edges 1984 Boston presentation although both show how Steve Jobs was a master salesperson and a passionate believer in his products.

The PC’s final milestone

Three years later Steve Jobs delivered the milestone product that marked the beginning of the end for the PC industry, the iPad finally delivered a mobile computing device that businesses and consumers wanted.

Apple’s iPad also marked a fundamental shift in the computer industry – no longer did the software companies control the market, power had shifted back to the manufacturers.

From that moment on the PC, and Microsoft’s Windows business, started a terminal decline.

The rise and fall of the personal computer is a great illustration of a transition technology. That Steve Jobs bookmarked the beginning and the end of the PC industry is an interesting note about a technology that changed the home and workplace.